Social Security income shouldn't be considered in restitution orders

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Dealing with an issue of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that Social Security income must be excluded when considering a defendant’s ability to pay restitution.

The appellate court has held that Social Security proceeds can’t be used to satisfy a civil judgment, but had yet to rule on the issue in a criminal matter. Rebecca Kays was ordered to pay nearly $1,500 to her neighbor following a misdemeanor battery conviction. The amount was based on the neighbor’s hospital bill and the court didn’t adequately consider Kays’ ability to pay. Kays’ counsel had argued that she only received $674 a month in Social Security benefits and was disabled and couldn’t work.

The judges reversed, finding the trial court didn’t do enough to inquire into Kays’ ability to pay. Sua sponte, the appellate court addressed whether 42 U.S.C.A. Section 470(a) precludes the trial court from considering SSI in determining her ability to pay restitution.

The judges looked to the Social Security Administration’s Program Operations Manual System, which says that these benefits aren’t subject to certain situations, including “other legal process,” and turned to other jurisdictions that had ruled on the matter to decide the benefits can’t be considered when ordering restitution.

“This approach comports with the purpose of social security benefits, which is to ‘assure that the recipient’s income is maintained at a level viewed by Congress as the minimum necessary for the subsistence of that individual,’” wrote Judge Melissa May in Rebecca D. Kays v. State of Indiana, No. 42A05-1007-CR-504.

The appellate court ordered the trial court to ignore Kays’ SSI when determining her ability to pay, and also sua sponte asked the lower court to consider whether it needs to recalculate the neighbor’s damages. The neighbor submitted a hospital bill for nearly $1,500, but the court didn’t inquire as to how much the neighbor actually paid out of pocket and how much her insurance may have paid.

The judges believed the reasoning from Stanley v. Walker, 906 N.E.2d 852, 857 (Ind. 2009), should be applied to criminal restitution orders to ensure that victims are compensated only for their actual loses. The lower court should determine whether the evidence submitted at trial included other documentation or testimony regarding the neighbor’s “actual cost” and if so, to recalculate her damages prior to assessing what amount Kays is able to pay, wrote Judge May.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.